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Building The Massive Simulation Sets Essential To Planck Results


To make the most precise measurement yet of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) – the remnant radiation from the big bang – the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) Planck satellite mission has been collecting trillions of observations of the sky since the summer of 2009. On March 21, 2013, ESA and NASA, a major partner in Planck, will release preliminary cosmology results based on Planck’s first 15 months of data. The results have required the intense creative efforts of a large international collaboration, with significant participation by the U.S. Planck Team based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

Strength in data analysis is a major U.S. contribution, including the resources of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the expertise of scientists in Berkeley Lab’s Computational Cosmology Center (C3).

The cosmological signal in the CMB data set is tiny, and separating it from the overwhelming instrument noise and astrophysical foregrounds requires enormous data sets – Planck’s 72 detectors gather 10,000 samples per second as they sweep over the sky – and exquisitely precise analyses.

Full Story: http://newscenter.lbl.gov/news-releases/2013/03/14/massive-planck-simulations/

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NASA’s Big Mars Rover Makes First Use Of Its Brush

January 10, 2013 Leave a comment

Patch of rock cleaned. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Patch of rock cleaned. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has completed first-time use of a brush it carries to sweep dust off rocks. Nearing the end of a series of first-time uses of the rover’s tools, the mission has cleared dust away from a targeted patch on a flat Martian rock using the Dust Removal Tool.

The tool is a motorized, wire-bristle brush designed to prepare selected rock surfaces for enhanced inspection by the rover’s science instruments. It is built into the turret at the end of the rover’s arm. In particular, the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer and the Mars Hand Lens Imager, which share the turret with the brush and the rover’s hammering drill, can gain information after dust removal that would not be accessible from a dust-blanketed rock.

Choosing an appropriate target was crucial for the first-time use of the Dust Removal Tool. The chosen target, called “Ekwir_1,” is on a rock in the “Yellowknife Bay” area of Mars’ Gale Crater. The rover team is also evaluating rocks in that area as potential targets for first use of the rover’s hammering drill in coming weeks.

Full Story/Links to Photos: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2013-009

NASA Celebrates 50 Years Of Planetary Exploration

December 12, 2012 Leave a comment

Fifty years ago on a mid-December day, NASA’s Mariner 2 spacecraft sailed close to the shrouded planet Venus, marking the first time any spacecraft had ever successfully made a close-up study of another planet. The flyby, 36 million miles (58 million kilometers) away from Earth, gave America its first bona fide space “first” after five years in which the Soviet Union led with several space exploration milestones. Designed and built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., the successful Mariner 2 spacecraft ushered in a new era of solar system exploration.

“JPL has always attempted to do mighty things on behalf of NASA and our nation,” said JPL director Charles Elachi. “Achieving America’s first ‘first in space’ is among the lab’s proudest achievements.”

In celebration of the anniversary, an interactive presentation highlighting 50 years of planetary exploration is available online.

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2012-395
Online Presentation: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/50years/

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Selects UT Austin As Research And Education Partner

October 17, 2012 Leave a comment

The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory has selected The University of Texas at Austin for its Strategic University Research Partnership program — a federally funded program focused on advancing space exploration.

The partnership will enable the university and JPL researchers to propose collaborative research and educational projects in strategic focus areas such as robotics, nanosatellites and high-precision mapping. The program also creates an employment pipeline for JPL’s future workforce.

The University of Texas at Austin is one of 12 universities that have been selected for this partnership.

Full Story: http://www.engr.utexas.edu/news/7417-nasapartnership

How To Hunt A Space Rock

October 13, 2012 Leave a comment

Peter Willis and his team of researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., had a problem. Actually, more like they had a solution that needed a problem. Confused? Let’s let Peter give it a shot…

“My team and I came up with a new lab on a chip,” said Willis, a scientist at JPL’s Microdevices Lab. “It essentially miniaturizes an automated sample processing and analysis instrument that could be put aboard future spacecraft and sent to distant planets, moons and asteroids. One challenge we have is finding new and interesting samples to try our chip on.”

The team had already gone into the field in quest of unique samples. Among their previous expeditions, they had hunted down trilobite fossils at the lava field in Amboy, Calif., and gathered samples from a hydrothermal vent near Yosemite National Park. But Willis and crew knew that when testing something destined for another world, it is good to try it on something not of this world. What they needed was a sign from above. On the evening of Aug. 21, 2012, a large fireball that turned night into day was reported over a mountain range halfway between Reno and Salt Lake City. By convention, the meteorite was named after the nearest town or prominent geographic feature.

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2012-320

Dawn Sees Hydrated Minerals On Giant Asteroid

September 24, 2012 Leave a comment

View of Cornelia crater on the giant asteroid Vesta shows an example of “pitted terrain,” Image credit: NASA/JPL Caltech /UCLA/MPS /DLR
/IDA /JHUAPL

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has revealed that the giant asteroid Vesta has its own version of ring around the collar. Two new papers based on observations from the low-altitude mapping orbit of the Dawn mission show that volatile, or easily evaporated materials, have colored Vesta’s surface in a broad swath around its equator.

Pothole-like features mark some of the asteroid’s surface where the volatiles, likely water, released from hydrated minerals boiled off. While Dawn did not find actual water ice at Vesta, there are signs of hydrated minerals delivered by meteorites and dust evident in the giant asteroid’s chemistry and geology. The findings appear today in the journal Science.

Vesta is the second most massive member of the main asteroid belt. The orbit at which these data were obtained averaged about 130 miles (210 kilometers) above the surface. Dawn left Vesta earlier this month, on Sept. 4 PDT (Sept. 5 EDT), and is now on its way to its second target, the dwarf planet Ceres.

Full Story:http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2012-297
Also: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/dawn/news/dawn20120920.html

Researchers Brew Up Organics On Ice

September 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Would you like icy organics with that? Maybe not in your coffee, but researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., are creating concoctions of organics, or carbon-bearing molecules, on ice in the lab, then zapping them with lasers. Their goal: to better understand how life arose on Earth.

In a new study published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, the research team provides the first direct look at the organic chemistry that takes place on icy particles in the frigid reaches of our solar system, and in the even chillier places between stars. Scientists think that the basic ingredients of life, including water and organics, began their journey to Earth on these lonesome ice particles. The ice and organics would have found their way into comets and asteroids, which then fell to Earth, delivering “prebiotic” ingredients that could have jump-started life.

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2012-293